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Nutrition Guidelines for Overweight Children


Overweight children are at high risk of becoming overweight adolescents and adults. Subsequently overweight adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

How do I know if my child is overweight?

  • Growth is a good indicator of a child’s nutritional status. A child’s growth is assessed by a health professional to determine if the child is keeping up with his or her growth pattern.
  • Growth can be monitored plotting your child’s weight and height in the appropriate weight and height chart.
  • Doctors or nurses will measure your child’s weight and height to determine if your child’s weight is within a healthy range.

What are some concerns for overweight children?

Children become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are:

  • Genetic factor plays a role in increasing the likelihood that a child will be overweight, but shared family behaviours such as eating and activity habits also influence body weight.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Unhealthy eating patterns or a combination of these factors.
  • Medical problem, such as an endocrine disorder, may cause a child to become overweight. Your doctor can perform a careful physical examination and some blood tests, if necessary, to rule out these types of problems.

How Can I Help My Overweight Child?

  1. Be Supportive.
    • Let them know that they are okay whatever their weight. Children’s feelings about themselves are often based on their parents’ feelings about them. If you accept your children at any weight, they will be more likely to accept and feel good about themselves.
    • Talk to your children about weight and allow them to share their concerns with you. Your child probably knows better than anyone else that he or she has a weight problem. For this reason, overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement from their parents.
  2. Focus on the Family.
    • Parents should try not to set children apart because of their weight but focus on gradually changing your family’s physical activity and eating habits. The family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight child.
  3. Increase Your Family’s Physical Activity.
    • Regular physical activity combined with healthy eating habits is the most efficient and healthful way to control weight. It is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore but to make the most of the opportunities you and your family have to be active.
    • Some simple ways to increase your family’s physical activities include the followings:
    • Be a role model to your children. If your children see that you are physically active and have fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active for the rest of their lives.
    • Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment like walking, dancing, biking, or swimming. Schedule a walk with your family after dinner instead of watching TV. Make sure that you plan activities that can be done in a safe environment.
    • Be sensitive to your child’s needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. It is important to help your child find the activities that they enjoy and that are not embarrassing or too difficult. .
    • Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games.
    • Be more active throughout your day and encourage your family to do so as well. For example, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or do some activity during a work or school break, get up and stretch or walk around.
  4. Teach Your Family Healthy Eating Habits.
    • Teaching healthy eating practices early in life will help children approach eating with the right attitude-that food should be enjoyed and is necessary for health.
    • Begin to learn more about children’s nutritional needs by reading or talking with a health professional.
    • Offer your children healthy options, allowing them to choose what to eat. The Malaysian Dietary guidelines is a good source of dietary advice for healthy Malaysians ages 2 years and older. The Malaysian Food Pyramid illustrates the importance of balance among food groups in a daily eating pattern.

Ways to help my overweight child eat?

If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family, consult a nutritionist or dietitian.

  1. Restrictive diet
    • Children should never be placed on a restrictive diet to lose weight unless under a doctors supervision. Limiting what children eat may be harmful to their health and interfere with their growth and development
    • To promote proper growth and development, and prevent overweight, parents should offer the whole family a wide variety of foods from each of the food groups displayed in The Malaysian Food Pyramid.
    • Most of the foods in the diet should come from the grain products group.
    • Diet should include moderate amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans groups.
    • Foods that provide few nutrients but are high in fat and sugars should be used sparingly.
    • Fat should not be restricted in the diets of children younger than 2 years of age.
  2. Carefully cut down on the amount of fat in your family’s diet
    • Reducing fat is a good way to cut calories without depriving your child of nutrients. Simple ways to cut down the fat in your family’s diet include limiting fried foods and dishes, preparing poultry without skin and using lean meats in dishes. Low fat or fat-free breads and cereals are also good alternatives.
    • Make small changes to the amount of fat in your family’s diet. However Major efforts to change your child’s diet should be supervised by a dietitian.
    • Fat should not be restricted in the diets of children younger than 2 years of age. After that age, children should gradually adopt a diet that contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat by the time the child is about 5 years old.
  3. Do not overly restrict sweets or treats.
    • Foods containing fat, salt, and sugar content should be taken in moderation.
  4. Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods
    • Make a wide variety of foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices.
  5. Encourage your child to eat slowly
    • A child can detect hunger and fullness better when eating slowly.
  6. Eat meals together as a family as often as possible
    • Try to make meal times pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If meal times are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
  7. Involve children in food shopping and preparing meals
    • These activities offer parents hints about children’s food preferences, teach children about nutrition and provide children with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare.
  8. Plan for snacks
    • Continuous snacking may lead to overeating. Never less, snacks that are planned at specific times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet without spoiling a child’s appetite at meal times.
    • Make snacks as nutritious as possible without depriving your child of occasional chips or cookies, especially at parties or other social events.
  9. Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV
    • Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to the feeling of fullness and may lead to overeating.
  10. Try not to use food to punish or reward your child
    • With holding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.
  11. Make sure your child’s meals outside the home are balanced
    • If practical, pack your child’s school lunch or snack to include a variety of foods.
    • Select healthier items when dining at restaurants.
  12. Set a good example
    • Set a good role model to your children by preparing a variety of foods for the family.
    • Being physically active will also teach your children healthy lifestyle habits that they can follow for the rest of their lives. Children are good learners and they learn best by example.


Last reviewed : 11 November 2008
Writer : Rashadiba bt. Ibrahim